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How To Stand Out In A Large Law Department

Melissa Maleske law360.com

In large law departments, in-house counsel who don't distinguish themselves are doomed to languish unnoticed among the masses. Here's how to make an impression with general counsel and other company leaders to move up the ranks.

Get Out of the Cubicle

In-house recruiter Mike Evers of Evers Legal says in-house counsel can stand out by getting out. In other words, once you venture out of your day-to-day duties, you're likely to meet and connect with people on the business side of your company. In law firms, lawyers have to impress their lawyer superiors, the partners and managing partners who will recommend them for partnership. In-house, it's just as important to get to become known on the client side.

Evers recommends breaking out of routines — and your routine set of coworkers — by participating in company-sponsored charitable causes and events, or to join the company's established centers of excellence or other task forces if available.

He cautions, however, to know your place when you're schmoozing with senior business leaders. It can be more appropriate to build relationships with someone outside of the law department who's at your corporate "grade level," Evers says. You can't just walk into the CEO's office because that's the general counsel's relationship.

"It's very effective for job security, and it's very effective for being well thought of when it comes to reviews and promotions," Evers said. "But there's some element of politics to it because if you're reporting to an associate general counsel or a general counsel who is protective of certain client relationships, you do have to have some political sensitivity and some understanding of who it's appropriate to build a bond with."

Step Up to the Plate

Whether you're new to the legal department or you're a veteran, volunteering to do work before you're asked is a surefire way to get noticed, according to Michael Sachs, a former in-house counsel who is now a partner and in-house recruiter at Major Lindsey & Africa.

"Being able to go to others and say, 'Why don't I lead that initiative?' or 'Let me take a first shot at this,' or 'Why don't I take that off your plate?' will save other people time, and that makes you look really good for the company," Sachs said. "Anything that makes them find you invaluable is great."

Of course, some junior in-house counsel in large law departments work on such a discrete segment of work they may not even be aware of what other tasks or projects are up for grabs. In that case, Sachs says to focus on doing good work, being solutions-oriented and building relationships with senior business leaders within the organization. You want to be in the room where it happens, and to get an invitation, you need to earn some trust and respect, he says.


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